'Undercover' story upsets Bicker clubs
An "undercover" story about the eating clubs published yesterday in a New York newspaper has attracted criticism from some students for what they say is its unfair and sensationalistic portrayal of the Street.
The article, published in the online edition of the New York Observer, described several of the selective eating clubs as elitist and insular. Opening with a firsthand account of Cottage Club's Feb. 17 lingerie party, the article discussed stereotypes of the five bicker clubs and quoted several students describing their views of the clubs and the bicker process.
"[T]he scantily clad female revelers inside the white-trimmed brick mansion — a New Jersey historic landmark with a library, billiards room and dance floor — were by and large Caucasian and 'salad-eater' thin," the article's author, Spencer Morgan, said of students partying at Cottage.
The story is the second attempt in recent weeks to highlight about what does and does not happen at the Street, underscoring continued media interest in the activities of the eating clubs, particularly those that admit students through Bicker. The tradition has often been the subject of controversy, with critics decrying it as elitist and discriminatory.
Some students yesterday, however, were angered by what they said was unethical and inappropriate conduct on the part of the Observer's reporter.
Former Ivy Club president Wyatt Rockefeller '07 said he thought the article was unfair and inappropriate. "The press has for a long time demonstrated an inclination to scandalize Ivy and the clubs in general — so be it," he said in an interview. "But the fact that specific sophomores were named and used to serve someone's agenda against the club is infuriating. They're just kids. They've done nothing to deserve this."
Rockefeller declined to comment on the specifics of the article's portrayal of Ivy.
The article's author, however, defended his work as an accurate portrayal of what he observed on Saturday night. "I'm proud of the article and stand by everything in it," Morgan said in an interview yesterday.
The reporter said he decided to write the article after hearing stories from friends who went through the bicker process two weeks ago. Morgan added that he was "further interested when The New York Times reporter got thrown out of there," referring to the freelance photographer hired by the Times who attempted to photograph Tower Club pickups on Feb. 9.
Morgan interviewed students at Cottage, accompanied by Melanie Flood, a photographer with the Observer. The article included a photograph of two male Cottage members who were naked save for gift-wrapped boxes covering their genitals, a reference to the Saturday Night Live "Dick in a Box" sketch.
It remains unclear how Morgan and Flood gained access to the clubs, where it is standard operating procedure for bouncers to ask for University ID before admitting anyone. Morgan, 28, said that he did not contact University officials or the clubs for permission to interview students.
One of the students in the photo, who would speak only on the condition of anonymity, said that no one asked for his permission to take a photo for public circulation.
The other photographed Cottage member, also speaking on the condition of anonymity, said he did not expect his costume to be publicized. "I did something outrageous, relatively knowingly, because I thought I was in my private eating club," the student said.
Cottage president Vince Ley '08 and graduate board chair Arthur Bellows '60 declined to comment.
Lev Berlin '07, a member of Cap & Gown Club who was quoted in the article describing his club, said that Morgan did not initially identify himself as a reporter. Berlin added that he and his friends "figured [Morgan] out and called him out on it, at which point he said he was a writer."
Morgan said he also visited Cloister Inn and was "in and around" Colonial Club Saturday night, adding that he "tried to get into every club where it looked like there was something happening."
The article ended with a six-paragraph account of Ivy's selection process that drew heavily on quotations from an unnamed "recently failed" bickeree. Quoting the hosed bickeree, Morgan listed the names of sophomores accepted into Ivy along with the advantageous "affiliations" that allegedly won them membership, including wealth, family history and greek-life connections.
Most of the individuals mentioned by the unnamed source declined to comment or could not be reached by The Daily Princetonian.
Jim Burke, an expert in journalism ethics, said that Morgan's misrepresentation of himself and extensive use of anonymous sources were "ethically questionable."
"He calls himself an undercover reporter, which is frowned upon unless there is absolutely no other way to get the story," Burke added.
Alexandra Jacobs, Morgan's editor at the Observer, said that while there is "no hard and fast policy" at the Observer, she believes that anonymous quotations "should be avoided, except when absolutely necessary." She added that Morgan had made use of his sources appropriately.
The article also contained several factual errors, including the misspelling of names and inaccurate dates. "We obviously had intended to get the names right, and all the names were fact-checked," Jacobs said. "We'll definitely print the corrections."
Morgan said he called the University-listed phone numbers of the individuals he mentioned in the article, but that no one returned his calls. "I would've loved to publish comments about whether or not their stories were or were not true," he said.
USG vice president Josh Weinstein '09, who was discussed in the article by the anonymous Ivy bickeree, said in an interview that he does not check his University voicemail but did not receive an email from Morgan.
Morgan said that many people have contacted him since the article was published yesterday. "Some people said it reflected the true nature of what was going on, and some disagreed," he said.
Reader Comments (0)
No comments yet. Be the first to post your opinion on this article.